Dayton’s historic Traxler Mansion a total loss after fire days before planned auction sale

Fire department still investigating cause; historic preservation officials ‘heartbroken’ by loss

The Louis Traxler Mansion, a famed West Dayton property that is part of the National Register of Historic Places, was heavily damaged following a fire early Sunday morning, just days before it was scheduled to be auctioned.

The Dayton Fire Department said the house was likely a total loss, but a formal damage estimate was not available yet.

Fire crews responded to the 42 Yale Ave. structure, built in 1912 at the intersection with Broadway Street, around 3 a.m. after the home was fully engulfed, according to Dayton Fire Department Lt. Mark Laugle.

Laugle said no one had been found inside the Traxler mansion Sunday, noting that crews fought the blaze defensively because “there was no way for us to safely investigate.” The home had been vacant for several years.

Firefighters were on the scene for approximately nine hours. No injuries have been reported.

The home is listed on Preservation Dayton Inc.’s most endangered properties list.

“We are heartbroken that we have lost one of the most important architectural treasures in our region,” Preservation Dayton Inc. President Monica Snow said. “And we want to move forward with positive solutions that other Ohio cities have implemented to stop these tragic losses.”

The home was scheduled to go to auction on May 4, via sheriff’s sale and tax foreclosure, said Fred Holley, chairman of the endangered properties committee for Preservation Dayton.

“And we did have a buyer lined up who was prepared to acquire it and understood the restoration cost, and was prepared to invest that money,” Holley said. “... Now it’s just gone.”

Snow said it was “a viable buyer who has fully restored an amazing mansion like the Traxler right there in Dayton View. And that individual had the liquid capital to prevail at the sheriff’s sale.

“This is a tragic, tragic loss,” she added.

The fire remains under investigation, according to Dayton Fire Department officials at the scene. No cause has been listed and Laugle said he could not comment on whether arson or other issues could be factors.

Anyone with information should call the department’s fire investigation unit at 937-333-TIPS (8477).

Because of how big the fire was, inside a massive home, there was no way for fire crews to get safely inside, Laugle said.

“We were hitting what we can from the outside with the aerial,” he said shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday.

Fire crews left the scene around 11 a.m., but Laugle said the remains of the building likely will be under a fire watch, with crews continuing to come by to check for any flare-ups.

Dayton has had multiple vacant house fires involving squatters, including one just seven blocks south on Broadway earlier this year where five people died.

Representatives of Preservation Dayton Inc. said they had been keeping close watch on the Traxler house to prevent squatters from settling in. But they said people had broken in on occasions in the past, and they couldn’t guarantee no one got in Saturday night into Sunday morning.

Snow said fire officials told her organization the house does not require emergency demolition. Fire officials did leave the block of Broadway Street adjacent to the house closed Sunday. PDI is urging the city to allocate funds “to stabilize the property for future re-use” and implement a receivership process for the site if it doesn’t go up for auction, she said.

Dayton Mayor Jeffrey Mims, Jr., and City Manager Shelley Dickstein did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.

The 8,221 square foot home with four fireplaces was valued last year at $245,950, according to Montgomery County real estate records. It is owned by William Moore and Doris Moore, who list it as their mailing address, records state.

Neighbors’ memories

Julius Willingham, 63, has lived across Yale Avenue from the Traxler mansion since he was 11.

“I played in that building and now it’s gone,” he said.

He said the building has remained the focal point of the neighborhood; people would regularly drive by and stop to ask questions about the home, Willingham said.

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

Lisa Spatz, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1989, said she’s sad that the fire happened when the home was so close to getting bought and renovated.

“I was in the house back at the designer showcase, maybe 1991. It was absolutely gorgeous inside,” Spatz said. “The lush carpets, the wood, the original woodwork, grand piano — you just felt like you were walking into ‘Downton Abbey’ when you were there. ... I was so hopeful for renovation of this gorgeous piece of architecture and the history Dayton has.”

Mansion’s history

The mansion built in 1912 was added to the National Register of Historic Places individually in 1979 and again in 1984 as part of the Dayton View Historic District, according to Preservation Dayton Inc.

PDI lists the Flemish Chateauesque-style building among several properties on its most endangered list. It was built for Louis Traxler — president of the Traxler Department Store — and Adeline Traxler, and was reportedly designed by Harvey Hiestand, founder of Miami University’s College of Architecture, according to Preservation Dayton.

The house is a larger version of the Piqua Leo Flesh Mansion which was built about five years earlier, according to PDI records.

Louis Traxler was born in Austria in 1864, his family moved to the U.S. in 1883 and he came to Dayton in 1899. After starting his business, Traxler purchased the property in 1909 and had the home built, staying in the large two-story stone house until 1929, Preservation Dayton records state.

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

That year it was sold to David Pickrell, Jr., owner of the Pickrell Plumbing Co. and president of the North Dayton Savings Bank. In 1932, the house was sold to Lillian Baker, whose husband, Frank R. Baker, later opened his own restaurant in downtown Dayton, according to PDI records.

About a decade later, it was divided into apartments and became a boarding house, PDI records state.

The home was put up for auction in 1977, when Dayton attorney Gerald Callahan bought it for $34,000 and restored it at a cost of $150,000.

Callahan lived in the house for several years, but sold to Centerville physician Virginia Stull, who then sold the property to the Rev. William and Doris Moore in 1990, who have owned the property since that time, according to Preservation Dayton.

It was selected as a Dayton Philharmonic Show House in 1991 before being chosen as one of Ohio’s Most Endangered Properties by Preservation Ohio in 2019 and again in 2022, PDI records show.